Category: Food and Drink
If you are going to worry about bilateral deficits, here is one to keep you up at night:
According to South Korea’s World Institute of Kimchi, 89.9 percent of the kimchi purchased by South Korean restaurants in 2016 was imported from China.
The kimchi trade first went into deficit in 2006, triggering soul-searching and a headline-grabbing scandal…
South Korea imported more than 275,000 tonnes of kimchi last year, 99 percent of it from China, the Korea Customs Service (KCS) said, and exported just more than 24,000 tonnes.
The deficit stood at US$47.3 million by value, up 11 percent year-on-year and the largest since the KCS began tracking the data in 2000.
Price is a major factor in the trade, with imports costing just US$0.50 per kilogram in 2016, according to Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp, while exports — primarily destined for Japan — averaged US$3.36 per kilogram…
UNESCO inscribed South Korean kimchi on its intangible cultural heritage list in 2013, saying: “It forms an essential part of Korean meals, transcending class and regional differences.”
Here is the full article, via the excellent Mark Thorson.
Perhaps you know that both mainstream bananas and chocolate are threatened by blights. There is even talk of “bananas as we know them” going under, although I believe the hardier (and tastier) Brazilian bananas are in much less danger. They are also harder to grow, stack, and transport to the United States.
More generally, to the extent societies opt for monocultures, disease can threaten an entire crop. So when breeding and choosing genetic strains, do markets get this problem right? Or can we identify a systematic market failure? Will farmers produce too many kinds of corn of the same kind, or too few? For background, you might wish to read this Charles C. Mann article. Here are a few points:
1. In old line Chamberlain-style monopolistic competition theory, producers selected too many product varieties because product differentiation boosted their market power and thus their profits. Appropriately, people accused him of excessively differentiating his theory from that of Joan Robinson.
2. In the A. Michael Spence product quality papers from 1976-1980, producers with market power choose too little product variety, because they don’t sufficiently count the inframarginal gains from bringing new products to market.
3. There is now a risk/insurance argument. If you breed and grow a different strain or corn, or simply invest in keeping an old strain around, no single blight can wipe out all the corn. This is a kind of substitute for corn insurance markets. I have seen Taleb make a version of these arguments on Twitter, in an anti-GMO context.
4. Is crop insurance that imperfect? A corn blight won’t succeed right away, and in the meantime the price of corn is going up. If I am worried about this, I can go long corn. Admittedly, this is not a hedge for society as a whole against the loss of corn, though it is a hedge for individual investors or farmers. The biggest losers can purchase some protection.
5. Maybe you just love corn diversity, as I do. But sticking within an economics context, corn is a pretty small part of most people’s budgets in the United States, but not in rural Mexico. It is therefore a major potential problem in Mexico but not for most consumers in the United States. In the U.S., I suspect many corn producers are non-diversified and reap producer surplus, but I don’t have hard data behind those judgments. Rural Mexicans also find it harder to diversify through asset markets, though they diversify by painting amates and taking up other alternative occupations.
6. You will note that diversity of corn strains persist in rural Mexico, and to a great degree. It is the United States that has moved much more toward the monoculture. Of course there may be transitional problems, as part of Mexican agriculture modernizes, but some farmers are left behind with older strains and methods.
7. We can admit that not all gdp is created equally, but then which are the foodstuffs we really could not afford to lose?
7d. Water, a drink.
Yikes! But mainstream corn and bananas I can do without.
8. Does the Chamberlain mechanism in #1 outweigh the Spence argument in #2? In today’s food markets, I certainly think so. So given the risk of extinction, a market structure of monopolistic competition may in fact be better than perfect competition.
How do these arguments apply to the breeding of other living beings?
I will be doing a Conversation with Charles (no public event), what should I ask him? Charles is one of my favorite writers, as he is the author of 1491, 1493, and the new and excellent The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World.
Here is yet another excerpt from the latter book:
Rodale died in 1971 — bizarrely, on a television talk show, suffering a heart attack minutes after declaring “I never felt better in my life!” and offering his host his special asparagus boiled in urine.
I thank you all in advance for your wisdom and inspiration. Here is Charles’s home page, he also has many excellent magazine articles.
This is really a paper about alcohol, and indeed “the a word” dominates the very first paragraph of the text, here is the abstract:
Jason M. Lindo, Peter Siminski and Isaac D. Swensen
This paper considers the degree to which events that intensify partying increase sexual assault. Estimates are based on panel data from campus and local law enforcement agencies and an identification strategy that exploits plausibly random variation in the timing of Division 1 football games. The estimates indicate that these events increase daily reports of rape with 17–24-year-old victims by 28 percent. The effects are driven largely by 17–24-year-old offenders and by offenders unknown to the victim, but we also find significant effects on incidents involving offenders of other ages and on incidents involving offenders known to the victim.
Visitors to the 700-seater Flavors food court can choose their reasonably priced meals from more than a dozen separate outlets, each offering a different type of cuisine from Southeast and East Asia, including Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean and Japanese. It is not even the biggest dining area, either: a further three 850-plus-seat canteens and numerous smaller restaurants and cafes are dotted around the university’s Modernist campus. In total, they feed about 50,000 people each day, serving a meal every 1.4 seconds on average.
…While the incredible variety of dining options on campus might seem incidental to this success, [recently retired president] Tan believes that it has played an important role in the university’s improvement on his watch.
“These are not just places where you eat — it’s where students and staff linger, mix and also learn from each other,” he said, adding that this element of campus life is “a cultural dimension that makes Singapore special.”
Here is the full story from Jack Grove.
The author is Charles C. Mann, and the subtitle is Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World. What a splendid book, this is, all rolled into one the reader receives two distinct biographies, a history of mid-20th century environmental science, a book on technological progress in agriculture, and one of the best overall frameworks for thinking about environmentalism.
Oh how many good sentences there are:
Until I visited post-Katrina New Orleans I did not realize that rebuilding a flooded modern city would involve disposing of several hundred thousand refrigerators.
Here is one fun bit:
So ineradicable was the elitist mark on conservation that for decades afterward many on the left scoffed at ecological issues as right-wing distractions. As late as 1970, the radical Students for a Democratic Society protested the first Earth Day as Wall Street flimflam meant to divert public attention from class warfare and the Vietnam War; left-wing journalist I.F. Stone called the nationwide marches a “snow job.”
By the way, as for the subjects of the dual biographies:
The two people are William Vogt and Norman Borlaug.
Here is the framing of the book:
…the dispute between Wizards and Prophets has, if anything, become more vehement. Wizards view the Prophets’ emphasis on cutting back as intellectually dishonest, indifferent to the poor, even racist (because most of the world’s hungry are non-Caucasian). Following Vogt, they say, is a path toward regression, narrowness, and global poverty. Prophets sneer that the Wizards’ faith in human resourcefulness is unthinking, scientifically ignorant, even driven by greed…Following Borlaug, they say, at best postpones an inevitable day of reckoning — it is a recipe for what activists have come to describe as “ecocide.”
Where along the Wizards-Prophets spectrum should one be?
This will end up as one of the very best books of this year.
A person on Quora asks Should you accept an offer of either tea or coffee in a serious meeting or a job interview?. Most say yes. I say no. Here’s my answer:
As an encyclopedia salesperson, (yes—a long time ago), I was taught that you should decline an offer of coffee. Here’s why. Suppose you spend 20 minutes talking with someone about encyclopedias. At the end of your pitch, you have given them your time and wisdom and people feel a need to reciprocate—they feel a little bit guilty that if they don’t buy, your time was wasted—so the need to reciprocate inclines them towards buying. But, if they have given you coffee, then there was an exchange, a quid pro quo, your time for their coffee, and since an exchange was made and your time wasn’t wasted they feel less need to buy.
Here is the abstract to The Geography of Poverty and Nutrition: Food Deserts and Food Choices Across the United States (free version) by Allcott, Diamond, and Dubé:
We study the causes of “nutritional inequality”: why the wealthy tend to eat more healthfully than the poor in the U.S. Using two event study designs exploiting entry of new supermarkets and households’ moves to healthier neighborhoods, we reject that neighborhood environments have economically meaningful effects on healthy eating. Using a structural demand model, we find that exposing low-income households to the same food availability and prices experienced by high-income households would reduce nutritional inequality by only 9%, while the remaining 91% is driven by differences in demand. In turn, these income-related demand differences are partially explained by education, nutrition knowledge, and regional preferences. These findings contrast with discussions of nutritional inequality that emphasize supply-side issues such as food deserts.
This is a good paper with a credible research design and impressive data from some 35,000 supermarkets covering 40% of the United States. Moreover, because of the widespread attention given to “food deserts” this paper probably had to be written. But color me un-surprised. The results are obvious.
Indeed, I feel that in recent years I am reading a lot of papers that aim massive firepower on weak hypotheses. As an explanation for obesity and poor eating habits, the idea of “food deserts” was absurd. The reasons are manifold. Even in food deserts it’s actually not that difficult to get healthy food and, contrary to popular belief, healthy food is not especially expensive. Try an Asian supermarket for plenty of cheap produce. Indeed, in any part of the United States you can find plenty of poor-people eating healthy foods and plenty of rich people eating unhealthy foods.
The food deserts idea was especially implausible for America because Americans spend less of their income on food consumed at home (6%) than any other nation. The Dutch, for example, spend (12%) of their income on food, the Italians and Japanese (14%), the Vietnamese (35%). There is plenty of room in the American food budget for healthy eating. Finally, Allcott, Diamond, and Dubé show that relative to unhealthy food, healthy food is actually a bit cheaper in low-income areas.
More importantly, just open your eyes. Walk into a fast food joint in a food desert and ask yourself, do the customers really want brussel sprouts but are reluctantly settling for Chips Ahoy? The idea is ridiculous and not a bit insulting in denying agency to the people who live in low-income areas. If what people living in food deserts wanted was brussel sprouts, they would get them.
The Whole Foods class think their kale and kombucha are so obviously superior to what the poor eat that the only possible explanation for poor eating is that poor people are denied choice. Yet put an inexpensive but colorful produce stand next to a McDonald’s and you can be sure that the customers will differ by class. Why the poor choose to eat differently than the rich is an interesting and important question but one more amenable to answers focusing on culture, education and history than price and income. The idea applies widely.
I’ve been to Morocco before, but never Fez. What do you all recommend?
Contrary to what many people will insist, it’s now possible to eat excellent Mexican food, including tacqueria-style tacos, in D.C., Northern Virginia and nearby Maryland. But this is not the result of a sudden influx of Mexican migrants — long an underrepresented group in the D.C. area — into the dining scene. Rather, earlier Mexican migrants are assimilating, opening larger businesses and spreading quality versions of their food to more parts of this country, just as hamburgers and pizzas earlier transcended their regional origins. This development is consistent with research showing that Mexican-Americans are assimilating more rapidly than previously we had thought. So the next time California, Texas or Arizona snobs complain about Mexican food offerings on the East Coast, tell them it’s better than they think.
The D.C. area also has some stagnating ethnic cuisines. Vietnamese food has continued to penetrate the market in Texas and Oklahoma, but in the Mid-Atlantic region mainstream Vietnamese restaurants seem to be in slight retreat. Vietnamese pho soups and banh mi sandwich shops are popular, and those dishes are feeding into fusion cuisine. But the full-menu restaurants don’t compete well with Thai and Chinese offerings. I am reminded of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which decades ago had fine and reasonably authentic German restaurants, but now they are mostly gone or are shells of their former selves. In the D.C. area, Bolivian is another cuisine that’s holding steady but not advancing in either the number of restaurants or the popularity with non-Bolivian customers.
The broader lesson is that America isn’t going to become endlessly more diverse, whether in its culinary offerings or otherwise. There are natural limits to these processes, and some are self-reversing as immigrants either assimilate or reach a peak influence on the broader American culture. In dining markets for the last 10 years as a whole, I would say the biggest development has been the spread of high-quality hamburgers and pizzas to all price ranges and dining styles, not the growth of cuisines cooked by recent immigrants.
Here is the rest of the column.
Here is the transcript and podcast, I enjoyed this chat very much. Here is part of the opening summary:
Sujatha Gidla was an untouchable in India, but moved to the United States at the age of 26 and is now the first Indian woman to be employed as a conductor on the New York City Subway. In her memoir Ants Among Elephants, she explores the antiquities of her mother, her uncles, and other members of her family against modern India’s landscape.
Our conversation considered the nature and persistence of caste, gender issues in India, her time as a revolutionary, New York City lifestyle and neighborhoods and dining, religion, living in America versus living in India, Bob Dylan and Dalit music, American identity politics, the nature of Marxism, Halldor Laxness, and why she left her job at the Bank of New York to become a New York City subway conductor, among other topics.
Here is one sequence:
GIDLA: Actually, the only relation I have with my family members is political views.
GIDLA: If we have to connect on familial links, we will always be fighting and killing each other. All that we talk about with my mother is politics and untouchability and caste and Modi and things like that.
It’s the same thing with my sister also. This is where we connect. Otherwise, we are like enemies. My brother, we’re completely alienated from each other, firstly because he goes to church now. We never used to go to church before. He’s into this Iacocca. Is there a name . . . ?
COWEN: Lee Iacocca?
COWEN: The former Chrysler chairman?
GIDLA: Yeah. He reads that kind of books.
COWEN: Management books.
GIDLA: He’s into that kind of stuff.
COWEN: You don’t?
GIDLA: He read Freakonomics and he liked it. I don’t relate to that stuff.
And this toward the end:
COWEN: Your most touching memory of your mother?
GIDLA: I don’t know. When I was arrested, she was very worried. She said, “I wish I could take you back into my womb.”
Strongly recommended. I was pleased to see that Publisher’s Weekly named Sujatha Gidla’s book as one of the ten best of 2017, you can order it here.
Nutella fans are outraged after it was revealed the recipe for the chocolate spread is changing – making it lighter and sweeter.
The makers of the popular spread, Italian food company Ferrero, admitted it is adjusting the recipe after the slight changes were noticed by German consumer group Hamburg Consumer Protection Centre.
The new recipe contains 8.7 per cent powdered skimmed milk, compared with the previous quantity of 7.5 per cent. And sugar content has risen from 55.9 per cent to 56.3 per cent.
Furious Nutella lovers took to Twitter to hit back at the changes using the hashtag #boycottNutella.
Here is the full story.
Andrea Matranga emails me:
“You have to drop a pin somewhere. Thereafter, at each meal time, a random person living within 30km of that pin will be selected, and you will eat an exact copy of what he is eating. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for the rest of your life, a different random person, but always within 30km of that pin. Where do you drop it?”
I go for the three s’s: Singapore, Seoul, and Sicily. You wish to avoid junk food, while also making sure that cheap food can hit some of the peaks. Seoul is especially good for vegetables, Singapore for variety, Sicily for yummy!
What is your pick?
That is a reader request, here goes:
I sometimes describe L.A. as the world’s best city to live in, but one of the worst to visit. Nonetheless you have some pretty good options. With half a day, make sure you have a rental car with the appropriate soundtrack(s). If you start from LAX, pick one road to drive east on, another to head back east to west — how about Sunset and Pico? Wilshire? Stop and walk as you can, convenient parking is often available. Use Jonathan Gold to pick the right eating places, perhaps Thai and Mexican? Veer off a wee bit and visit the La Brea Tar Pits, or for a longer trek Watts Towers. Time the sunset for Griffith Park. Deemphasize “Downtown” but consider the new Broad Museum for contemporary art. Work in a beach walk at Santa Monica or Venice, preferably the former. See a movie. See another movie. Avoid Beverly Hills. The truly ambitious can drive all the way down Western Ave. and stop for Belizean food along the way to that chapel at the very bottom of the road.